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Teaching Shakespeare

5 Soliloquies to Teach in This Month of Resolutions

Happy New Year, colleagues! This time of year, there’s a tendency to look inward. We reflect. We resolve. And, if you’re anything like me, you wrestle with your resolutions, too.

What better time to take a close look at the most introspective moments in Shakespeare: characters’ conversations with themselves?

Today we’re highlighting 5 soliloquies—some of firm resolve, others of wavering resolve, and some of resolve-in-the-making. Keep reading for some suggestions for teaching them, too.

“Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” – Iago, Othello 1.3

“To be or not to be” – Hamlet, Hamlet 3.1

“Farewell.—God knows when we shall meet again” – Juliet, Romeo and Juliet 4.3

“If it were done when ’tis done” – Macbeth, Macbeth 1.7

“Thou, Nature, art my goddess” – Edmund, King Lear, 1.2

A great way to get all students right inside a soliloquy is through multiple active, out-loud readings. (Bonus: since everyone begins reading together, this approach is much less intimidating than putting individuals on the spot!) Here’s one way to do it:

  1. Give everyone a copy of the soliloquy.
  2. Ask everyone to read the whole speech chorally, as a group.
  3. Ask everyone to read the whole speech chorally again—this time as quickly and as loudly as they can. Shouting the words is all about owning them.
  4. The group next reads the speech sequentially, “thought-to-thought.” The first reader reads aloud from the beginning to an end punctuation—period, semicolon, question mark, or exclamation point. The next reader picks it up and reads to the next end punctuation. If you have more students than lines, you can read the speech again this way to get everyone involved.
  5. Divide the group into two choruses and have them line up and face off. Each chorus reads to an end punctuation. Ask students to verbally throw their lines at the chorus opposite, and with increasing intensity.
  6. Debrief and reflect: go around the room and have students share how it felt to move through this process—and what their work taught them about the speech and the character saying it. Listen for students’ self-confidence, joy, and evidence-based insights into what—and how—the soliloquy communicates. Don’t be shy about pointing out that students did all this on their own!
  7. If you’re keen to make a connection to the idea of resolutions, you can also ask students to evaluate and compare the resolve of the characters in these soliloquies. Draw and discuss a “weak resolve – strong resolve” scale on the board, or have students annotate each speech with a focus on the characters’ commitment to their decisions. The answers matter much less than the process of negotiating them.

Let us know how it goes, and best wishes for your own resolutions!

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